Home and family are very significant themes in Molly Keen’s memoire, mainly because the memoire revolves heavily around the experiences of each family member. In fact, Molly prioritises the details of the different relationships of her siblings, without going into much detail about her own personal relationships or her love life, showing the significance of their lives to Molly. Furthermore, Molly does not mention any potential suitors, or many adult friends, which articulates the significance of the close bonds the family shared amongst itself. Whether or not Molly felt that her own love life was to be confidential, and not appropriate for her memoire is uncertain, but the lack of detail about her personal life, in her own childhood memoire further enhances the importance of family during the years leading up to, during and after the First World War. Molly focuses mainly on her childhood, which shows the effects of the First World War on her working-class family, and ultimately how her identity and personality were to be adapted by her own experiences.
The Keen family is described as a close family, through Molly’s sister Winifred who willingly devoted herself to caring for their ill mother, and to helping to bring up their baby sister Ivy. Molly’s siblings also included two older brothers, John Charles (known as Jack), and Percy who both signed up to fight in the First World War, at ages 17 and 16 respectively. Molly’s siblings are a direct example of stereotypical gender roles during the outbreak of the War, whereby the women would be more domestic, and thus maternal in Winifred’s case, and the men would go and fight for the country. However, both brothers did survive the war, but Percy “was wounded, a shrapnel would in the hand” (p.28), but as he was treated in France Molly does not seem to have been exceptionally terrified for her Brother. Nevertheless, Molly describes her family as having “good kind parents and a very happy home” (p.1), which shows the devastation of the First World War to the homes and families of many. The Keen family were very lucky, and thus becomes evidence as to why the family remained very close during her childhood.
Molly expresses the love the Keen family had by detailing how much she adored her parents. She stated she would rush “out to meet as if she had been away for a week” (p.11) after school, showing her excitement to simply see her own mother. Her father and Molly appear to be more similar, through shared interests in nature, and also similar work ethics. Molly was more interested in gaining a job, rather than settling for the domestic, and stereotypical, lifestyle women would usually go for during this time, such as her sister Winifred. Her determination to work certainly derives from her Father, who would work long hours as a master sign writer to provide for his family. Also, the Keen family appeared to have been rather stereotypical in the manner of the men not involved heavily in the nurturing aspects of family life. The Father would work long hours, meaning he “never had sufficient energy or time” (p.4), particularly for gardening, even though he had a strong interest in nature. But his determination to work inspired Molly, and also the death of her mother further inspired and motivated Molly into a nursing career path. Having come from a working-class background, Molly’s nursing career choice shows how hard she will have worked to succeed in this job, especially as a woman. The alternative for women to family life was to work and help provide for the family, and becoming a nurse was a clever and meaningful career path for Molly following the Great War and the injured soldiers that managed to come home. Due to her brothers fighting in the war, and her Mother’s death, Molly’s decision to be a nurse further enhances the importance of home to Molly, because she wanted to help her country, as she will have hoped many will have helped her Mother and brothers. Louise A. Tilly stated, “working class wives […] saw their household work as a contribution that was as important to their families as the wage work of the husband” (p.5), which is appropriate when linking to Molly Keen’s parents due to their cohesive parental environment, and the devoted love they both shared for each other and their family.
The death of Molly’s mother had a profound effect on the Keen family, but I shall cover this in my second blog post under the same theme of ‘Home and Family’, within which I shall be focusing on the strength of the family.
Image 1 – https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/subjects/military/rfc/
Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987
Tilly, Louise A. “Women, Work, and Citizenship.” International Labor and Working-Class History, No. 52, 1997, pp. 1–26.